16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson’s magical NCAA run comes to an end

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Coach Tobin Anderson said he and his Fairleigh Dickinson players will remember it all.

“Everything. Everybody chanting ‘F-D-U.’ The place going crazy. The police escorts. Leaving the hotel with the band playing,” Anderson said. “Every part of this I’ll remember forever — and they will, too.”

FDU’s magical NCAA tournament run finally came to an end Sunday night. Florida Atlantic held off a ferocious second-half run from the 16-seed Knights to defeat them 78-70 and advance to the Sweet 16 in Madison Square Garden in New York instead.

“Their scrappiness, their physicality was exceptional,” said Owls coach Dusty May, whose team will face fourth-seeded Tennessee. “We just made enough plays to win … but they were easy [for the crowd] to root for, the way they were playing.”

Two days after pulling off one of the biggest stunners in college basketball history, FDU nearly delivered another.

Spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, FDU utilized a 12-1 run to take its first lead of the game, the go-ahead basket coming on a 3 by Joe Munden Jr. with 18 minutes to play.

But Florida Atlantic eventually pulled away behind a historically prolific effort by guard Johnell Davis, who scored 29 points. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Davis is the only player to finish with at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals in an NCAA tournament game since steals became an official statistic in 1986. Davis scored 20 of his points in the second half.

The Knights “brought out the best in us,” Davis said.

On Friday, the Knights defeated Purdue 63-58 to become just the second 16-seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the men’s NCAA tournament. Entering Friday, 16-seeds were 1-150 in the opening round. FDU joined UMBC, which became the first 16-seed to beat a No. 1 by knocking off Virginia in 2018. Like the Knights, UMBC fell in the round of 32 to Kansas State that year, 50-43.

Senior guard Demetre Roberts led FDU with 20 points. Roberts was one of three players, along with guard Grant Singleton and forward Sean Moore, whom Anderson brought with him from Division II St. Thomas Aquinas College after taking over at FDU before this season. The Knights featured five new starters this season, including Roberts, Singleton and Moore, who combined for 40 points in the loss.

“We overcame a lot,” the 5-foot-8 Roberts said of the Knights, who had the shortest team in Division I college basketball this season with an average height of 6-foot-1. “I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

After winning only four games all last season, FDU won two tournament games in the past five days alone, including Wednesday’s play-in victory over Texas Southern in Dayton.

Because FDU doesn’t have a band, the University of Dayton’s band traveled a little over an hour to fill in for the Knights. Dayton junior trombonist Cole Joniak said the band learned FDU’s fight song 15 minutes before Friday’s tipoff against Purdue. On Sunday, UD’s band members waved plastic swords they’d bought for the tournament while cheering on the Knights.

Moments after the final buzzer, the UD band, the FDU fan section and hundreds of fans of other teams who backed the Knights over the weekend were still chanting “F-D-U.” The FDU players then walked over to clap with them and celebrate what they’d accomplished.

“What we did was incredibly special,” Anderson said. “And that will be something [we’ll have] for the rest of our lives.”

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